Book Review: The Ocean At The End Of The LanePosted: August 1, 2013
It’s hard for me to review a Neil Gaiman book without gushing about how awesome it is, but I’ll try to be as objective as possible. So, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” begins when a middle-aged narrator returns to his childhood home and finds himself drawn to a neighboring farm where, as a child, he met an extraordinary girl and her equally extraordinary mother and grandmother. This sparks the recollection of strange and terrifying events that occurred when the narrator was seven years old.
Gaiman fans will find the world of the story familiar. It bears some resemblance to Coraline, and has a touch of The Graveyard Book too – the three women are named Hempstock, same as the witch in The Graveyard Book. It’s tied into common mythologies (the Mother, Maiden, Crone thing), but the details are pure Gaiman (kittens that grow in a field, anyone?)
If I have to pick one book to compare this to, I’d go with Coraline (love the book, never like the movie much because I think they made it too kid-friendly.) Actually I’d say “Ocean” is like Coraline, written from the point of view of an adult Coraline, except it’s a lot sadder. The story keeps twisting my stomach with anger and with fear for the narrator. He has to face a supernatural force near incomprehensible in its scope, yet the brilliant thing is that this threat is demonstrated in such a relatable way, kids vs. adults. Sometimes in fantasy it can be difficult to understand the protagonist’s fear when they’re facing something like dragons or demons, but here, stripped of all supernatural elements, what the narrator has to go through can definitely happen in real life, and that’s what makes it so much more terrible. I actually find the “Big Bad” at the end not as effective, because the threat is so out-there that the fear feels abstract.
I do have some quibbles though (shocking!) This book started out as a short story, and I think a short story may have been better. It’s a rich world, but it feels a little… underdone. Like the book either condenses it too much or doesn’t explore enough of it. Or maybe the fact that I keep comparing it to his kids’ books means that the part with the grown-up narrator is the problem. Would I like it better as a kids’ book? Probably not. The grown-up part adds a heartbreaking realistic note to an otherwise completely fantastical tale, I just wish it could make me feel as much as the rest of the book does.
So, yeah. “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is not perfect, but it’s good enough to keep me reading it all in one sitting. It won’t tip the scale one way or the other on how you feel about Neil Gaiman’s writing, but it’s a nice little story.
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